Review: The Revenant (2016)

A brutal yet beautiful story of revenge and death

Based in part on the novel by Michael Punke, The Revenant tells the story of a hunting team who are attacked by Indians, forced to leave the fur skins they have acquired and flee back to the nearest outpost. During their return, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is savaged by a bear and, due to his injuries, has to be carried through the harsh winter wilderness by the remaining members of the hunting team. With the team splitting up, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Bridger (Will Poulter) and Glass’ own son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) stay behind and act as Glass’ caretaker. However, Fitzgerald betrays Glass, kills his son, dumps him in a shallow grave and leaves him for dead. Full of grief and anger, Glass heals and makes the journey back to the outpost in search of revenge whilst dealing with the pursuing Indians and the harsh environment.

The Revenant is one of the most brutal and unforgiving films I have ever seen. The attack by the Indians on the hunting team is unexpected and relentless as arrows fly from all angles taking out the majority of the team in one swoop. Then we have the pure savagery of the bear mauling on Hugh Glass with the camera uncomfortably close and focused on every claw tear through skin. We see the bear rip Glass to shreds, stamp all over him and play with him just like it would do…no running away from this beast! After that we are subject to all manner of blood and – quite literally at one point – guts as the pure will to survive is etched into every moment on screen either from Glass himself, the hunting team’s journey back to the outpost, or the various wildlife we come across. This film does not compromise or sugar coat anything. We see Glass sucking bone marrow out of a carcass, chowing down on a freshly caught fish, sealing a wound on his neck using gunpowder and getting a bit too cosy with a horse – again, all in the name of survival.

Yet it is also one of the most beautiful and serene films as well. The landscape is, put simply, breath-taking. Vast environments are laid out, trees sway and creak in the wind, the stages of the moon hanging in the night sky are shown to define time, snow is crisp and blinding, and weather is shown as nourishing in one moment then deadly the next. It genuinely is a feast for the eyes, as cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki has produced magic with not a jot of CGI in sight, and then there are moments of fantasy and divinity amongst the stark reality on screen. Sparse but important, these take shape in dream states Glass drifts in and out of, and also act to fill in his slight backstory. Never intrusive or out of place, they range from a meteor shower to a floating woman and range from eerie to divine. Add in a fantastic score full of power, creepiness and harmony, along with incredible direction by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu which takes the viewer places never thought possible. We sweep, dive, track, fly and intrude into this film through the direction getting so close to the characters faces, that their breath actually fogs up the screen at certain points.

Through the brutal beauty, the sonic and visual medium, we feel part of this film, and through the actors we feel every grimace and ounce of pain. Starting with DiCaprio as Glass, his leading man is honourable and just; a true survivor. His actual lines of dialogue probably wouldn’t fill a page of A4 paper, so it’s down to his pure acting skills – and boy does he show them off. You will feel actual hurt watching him being attacked by the bear, feel his helplessness as he crawls and scrambles to survive, sympathise with him as he mourns his loss and route for him as he seeks revenge. Yes, he should win the Oscar for this and it would be a crime if he didn’t. Then we come to Hardy as Fitzgerald. Half scalped, sometimes mumbling but very imposing, Hardy proves yet again what an incredible actor he is. His eyes alone will burn a hole in your soul – uncompromising and relentless. The fight at the end between DiCaprio and Hardy defines their characters and their acting…honestly, Hardy should get the Oscar as well. Equally impressive are Poulter showing torment and fear and Domhall Gleeson as the doomed captain. Arthur RedCloud as Hikuc also makes an impression in his brief time on screen during his aid of Glass. There is so much more I could tell you about the film but it really is best to immerse yourself in it instead.

Are there any negatives? From a personal perspective, no. For anyone else reading this review though, it’s definitely not a first, second or even third date movie. You will become very intimate with human and animal anatomy throughout, so anyone squeamish really shouldn’t see this (but at their loss). And it is a long film, clocking in at 156 minutes and demanding every second of concentration, but this film demands to be watched and experienced. It is what film making should be and is absolute proof of the power and strength of the medium when it pushes the boundaries.

Discussion feed
  • Ah it was a gorgeous film to watch if a bit traumatic. Could not agree with you more re. Hardy I think he deserves an Oscar too. (Dare I even say more so? I couldn't even see him as Tom Hardy by the end!) Not sure I will be watching it again for a few weeks though - need a bit of a break as I feel like I went through the whole ordeal myself! Which I'm sure is testimony to how immersive it is!
    • Stunning film isn't it! Just got the soundtrack score on now...haunting but beautiful - pretty much like the film! And yeah, Hardy...outstanding as ever.

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